Moulders Lane

Category: Writing

How Writers Get Published: The Lure of the Pen – Flora Klickmann (1917-18)

I’ve been looking through another volume of The Girl’s Own Annual and found a series of articles by the Editor, Flora Klickmann, entitled The Lure of the Pen or, how to get rid of all your Romantic claptrap about Being An Artist and write something that will actually Get Published. One of the things I really like about Klickmann’s writing is that so many of the points she makes are just as valid today; and the ideas and suggestions in this set of articles have been incredibly useful in boosting my own glacially paced efforts.

It’s statistically impossible that I’m the only person with my particular set of problems as a writer, so the idea that others out there will also find the articles helpful is probably a good one. With this in mind, I’m going to do a review of each article here with my thoughts on what I found particularly useful. (If you want to read the articles in full, they’re in book form at Project Gutenberg; the American edition from 1920.) And then maybe we’ll all start writing, rather than trying to write!

Klickmann’s first article is concerned with the problem of the would-be writer from the publisher’s perspective i.e. – where you are all going wrong. This was incredibly helpful and a good eye-opener, with Klickmann pulling no punches:

‘In the business of Making Literature … genius is rare. Nearly-genius is almost as rare. The only quality that presents itself in abundance is entirely untrained mediocrity.’

As Editor of a popular monthly magazine, Klickmann reads about nine thousand stories, articles and poems over the course of the year, not including those read by others of her staff. Of all these, it’s rare that more than than about six hundred form suitable material for the magazine: the market is there for the writers, in fact she’d like to buy double the amount she does; but the writers just aren’t producing what she needs.

Rejected manuscripts tend to fall into three categories:

the piece isn’t suited to the policy and requirements of the publishing house, or her magazine;

their subject matter has already been covered by the magazine;

and, the largest pile:

the piece has no marketable value.

The key problem, in this last, is the mindset of the would-be writer, that has to be overcome before any progression from un-marketable to marketable work can be achieved:

‘[domestic service is the only other vocation] where the candidates expect good pay at the very start without any sort of training, any experience, any specialised knowledge, or any idea of the simplest requirement of the business from which they hope to draw an income’

The examples she gives of practitioners in other areas puts her point into very clear perspective: we would find it laughable that an artist would submit a painting professionally, announcing that this is his/her first attempt at drawing; a musician expect to play at a concert when she has had no training; or a dressmaker expect large fees as, without the most basic knowledge, she feels convinced that she could make a dress. Yet Klickmann has experienced all these attitudes amongst would-be writers.

As she goes on to outline, the difficulty with literature is its subjectivity: ‘no matter how you much you try and pin it down, some new genius is sure to break out in a fresh place’. (This comment seems quite prescient, given the development of Modernism over the next ten years.)

Most novices in the above-mentioned fields will recognise and accept that there are specific techniques involved that can be taught and must be practised – what Klickmann calls the ‘mechanical’ processes that are invaluable in assisting the would be artist, musician or dressmaker along the right road towards the longed for goal.’ adding ‘True, such advice cannot make good a lack of real genius, yet it may help to develop nearly-genius, and that is not to be despised.’

Literature, however, is an ‘intangible’ medium – apart from ‘the bare laws that govern the construction of the language’ there are ‘no similar universal structures that will pass on the knowledge needed to write well’. This ‘inability to reduce writing to any set of specific rules’ means that one frequently encounters the amateur writer/poet who sees himself as an Artist, untrammelled by any such mundane considerations as his readers – a type that Wodehouse used to great effect in many of his stories.

Klickmann goes on to point out:

‘despite this prevailing idea that we all possess heaven-sent genius, which is ready to sprout and blossom straight away with no preparatory work .. some training is imperative; and if the would-be writer is to go far, the training must be rigorous and very comprehensive.’

This certainly struck a chord with me – for someone who detests the flights of high Romanticism I seem to have great difficulty in curbing my own irrational leanings in that direction and what I like, and find valuable, in these articles is the way they both highlight, and puncture, my own prejudices. I have always been extremely sniffy, in the past, about formal training for writers for the very ‘writer as Artist’ reason she cites but, after all, what could be more natural, practical or valuable? (Why am I so resistant to seeing prose writing as a craft, as I have no difficulty in seeing art or music, or even scriptwriting?)

What’s encouraging, though, is that that most of the faults in a writer’s work can be ‘remedied with study and practice’; so that, even though your story is nowhere near a work of genius, you will at least be able to produce something that editors will want to publish.

From Klickmann’s considerable experience, the main recurring faults that characterise unmarketable submissions are omissions –

a lack of:

any preliminary training;

specialised knowledge of the subject dealt with;

modernity of thought and diction;

the power to reduce thought to language;

cohesion and logical sequence of ideas;

ability to get the reader’s view-point;

new and original ideas and themes;

the instinct for selection;

a sense of proportion

and in later articles she’ll be showing the would-be author how to overcome these failings.

With all the writing courses, groups and ability to blog these days I’d be surprised if beginners still send their ‘early, crude efforts to editors’ any more; and the unguided or self-admiring ‘small literary coteries’ formed by ‘ardent amateurs’ – another Wodehouse favourite – are probably somewhat more focused these days.  But her comment ‘The craving for “self-expression” is one of the characteristics of this century’ is more true than ever a hundred years later, though the medium that now lures is not the pen but the mobile device.

Writing ‘In Character’

I find it very easy to write characters as a script writer: they seem to spring ‘fully-formed’ and it’s really just a matter of learning about someone that already exists and recording their doings. Prose characters, on the other hand, have to be laboriously created and the results are stiff and dull – I find it very difficult to find ‘a way in.’

This was my attempt to do so by writing ‘in character’ rather than describing a character from the outside. I’ve mentioned, before, an earlier period in my life when I spent time with someone very creative; and it was while re-reading an article by Flora Klickmann that I was reminded of a poem I’d written then.

Klickmann argued that most people wanted a magic wand waving when it came to realising long held dreams and weren’t prepared to pay the price that would actually make them happen. The lines I’d written: ‘The price that must be paid,/I’ve paid in full.’ (to which my source’s response on reading was: ‘Yeah, I bloody have, ‘n’ all’) came back to me and I dug out the poem.

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A Writing Update

New Year’s resolutions have a way of foundering on the rocks of personal temperament and unforeseen circumstance – generally the former – which is pretty much what happened to the projects I started up last year.  I had a couple of ideas that I thought would not only help me post more regularly but also kickstart me into Writing again, and this post is in the nature of an update for anyone who’s wondering what on earth happened.

The first of these projects was based around something I find interesting and thought you might too.  I have several volumes of The Girl’s Own Annual and, reading about the things that concerned and entertained women a century ago, in 1916, I thought I’d do a little synopsis of the relevant issue each month and add scans of articles on things like the changing fashions – and particularly those on women’s involvement in the Great War.  It seemed to me that, with all the media coverage of Important Battles, it was just as important that women’s battles to keep the country’s homes and industries afloat be flagged up too – and this was to be my small contribution towards highlighting them. Read the rest of this entry »

Profanity and publishing

A piece on the writing standards that seem to characterize our current era from one of blogosphere’s ‘trio of Wodehouse fame’ (Ashok, Honoria, Noel, in case you didn’t know).

He’s sound on trains too.

The Traveller

Let’s talk about swearing in journalism. Once upon a time, there was none, at least not commonplace as it is now. For a swear word to reach print or, heaven forbid, the airwaves, it took long, anguished philosophical debate or monumental carelessness in the editorial process.

I remember as a cadet on the Courier-Mail in Brisbane a rolling argument through high levels and low about publishing a review of a small play called Norm and Ahmed by Alex Buzo, which included its controversial punchline. The play was one of Ozlit’s first forays that I can remember into the fraught topic of race relations. Its dramatic height came with either Norm or Ahmed (it hardly matters which) advising the other to go fornicate, in the Big Word that was considered most shocking in the 1960s.

Maybe we published the review with the word in and maybe we didn’t. I don’t remember. The point here…

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The 2016 Writing Challenge Revisited

By all the rules I’d set myself, and Goldberg’s advice, I should have posted what I’d been able to achieve at the end of the week and moved on. But it was shaping up into a nice little story and I thought I’d easily be able to get it to a state I felt happy to ‘sign off’ by the following week.

Of course I kept working on it after that, and am still working on it, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do. My excuse is that I’m out of practice with the format and it’s taking me longer that it should do to produce the work but what it’s really about is my reluctance to post something that falls short of what I see it could be. (This is one of the things that scuppered my first degree – and I still appear to be doing it. Take note, anyone with similar inclinations.)

So, in an attempt to save face I am posting this little poem I wrote Read the rest of this entry »

The 2016 Writing Challenge

My New Year’s Resolution was to write book reviews, after having read so many on other blogs, but when my first attempt took several months to complete and I couldn’t get going with subsequent ones, I realised I needed something to break the impasse. Finding my old notebook of writing exercises from Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones has inspired me to try these again; and in the spirit of other bloggers that set themselves reading challenges to help get them out of their comfort zone, I’ve decided to set myself a Writing Challenge.

So here it is – each week I’ll be posting a writing exercise on this blog, with the results of the previous one, in an attempt to keep myself up to the mark; and also to encourage any other readers with literary leanings to do likewise themselves.

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Preparing to Write

Most of my day is spent trying to clear things out of the way so that I can get on with what it is I’m actually trying to do; and I’m coming to the conclusion that the only way I’m going to achieve anything in the writing line, is to get up before the day’s obstacles have a chance to get going. I’m not sure I can emulate Honoria Plum, who’s settled down at her writing-table at seven every morning, to get an hour or so in before work – not until the clocks go forward anyway – but I definitely do need to find an uncluttered space in which to write.

Wodehouse was a noted slogger: McCrum’s biography describes ‘formidable powers of application’. When working at a London bank, in his late teens, Wodehouse wrote all evening after work instead of socialising, only going out and about in search of copy, and in his first freelance days he was producing enough to receive up to eight rejected manuscripts each day. Even as a schoolboy working for a scholarship his dedication was remarkable: ‘I sprang from my bed at five sharp each morning, ate a couple of petit beurre biscuits and worked like a beaver at my Homer and Thucydides.’ The dawning lesson is: if I really do want to write, I have to be serious about making time for it.

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Try Writing

A piece on why we write from Stuart M. Perkins over at Storyshucker, a delightful blog that’s the complete embodiment of the writer’s mantra: every encounter, every experience we have, whether good, bad or indifferent – it’s all copy.



“Thousands of people who write believe they are better than thousands of others. They believe they will pen the next great American novel but their writing is dull and full of grammatical errors. Why do they write anything intended to be read by the public? Why do they write?”

I read those lines and was impelled to respond. The blogger’s entire post was arrogant and sarcastic, but those lines were the cherries on top. After I acknowledged that he can post what he likes on his own blog, I then asked if rather than squelch ambitions with a negative message about imperfection, he could instead applaud people for their attempts, for our attempts because I am one of the imperfect. But, we still try.

I don’t necessarily like being serious because, well, it’s not funny. I love a little arrogance and sarcasm as much as anyone, maybe more than…

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On Trying to Write

imgI’m currently reading Julian Maclaren-Ross: Selected Short Stories introduced by Paul Willetts. It’s a first edition from 2004 that was given me by a friend in the days when I spent most weekends in London; and although I dipped into it briefly, its appeal was more book-as-pleasurable-artefact: good quality paper, a clear font and layout, and a rough pencil-sketch illustration of a pub interior on the cover that all seemed to say London Review of Books bookshop (which is probably where he got it from.)

A casualty of my move back here, its once pristine white pages are now randomly spotted with little dots of damp, and it was while flicking through them in resigned irritation, some days ago, that a few sentences caught my eye and I went back and read the Introduction. It opens:

Julian Maclaren-Ross was the quintessential Soho bohemian. Flamboyantly dressed, feckless, egotistical, pill-popping, alcoholic and more often than not hard up, he possessed an intriguing combination of saturnine good looks and unflappable movie star panache. During the 1940s and 1950s … he was one of that area’s most celebrated personalities.

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On Writing

I’ve been trying for a while now to find a post that best sums up ‘Tales from the Reading Room‘, a small corner of civilized debate in the darkness of a turbulent world. This isn’t quite it, but, as a writer, I was very struck by the ‘ring of Truth’ feeling I got when I read this post and felt it was something to be shared.

Tales from the Reading Room

Somehow or other – and I’m not sure how to do it – I’ve got to face up to the fact that I have a book to write for a deadline of August 2007. That sounds like a long way away, but I know the tricks that time plays on you, how one moment it’s Lady Bountiful with arms overflowing, then the next moment it’s Scrooge, tightening the purse strings. Oddly enough the difficulty arises from my sense of good fortune in having a whole year for my project. Up until now I’ve written my books the way I write my blog, carving out pockets of time and space, filling in the corners of life, stuffing up the little gaps with as many words as I can get in. I’ve always identified with Isaac Asimov who said: ‘If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I…

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